The reason why I like horror is that it reverses the order of things. Those who fit society, be they conventional types or ‘alpha men and women’, are ridiculed, tortured, and killed. Horror is not just about our subconscious or conscious fears. It turns our world upside down. It is transgressive by its very nature breaching all boundaries, of identity, morality, sexuality, and more. In a horror film, purity is impurity. It’s a world where the pillars of the community are evil, clowns murderous, and children creepy. It is also the world of those who do not fit in and have their revenge by instilling horror and fear. ‘Othering’ is at the core of Trick ‘r Treat, and it is the wholly other, the dead, who rule.
Halloween, Horror and Ritual of Reversals
In The Ritual Process (1966), Victor Turner names rituals of reversal those seasonal rites, such as April’s fool, Carnival, Halloween, which are characterised by a reversal of social status and hierarchies. In these rituals, we experience different forms of liminality (being in between boundaries). Children wearing masks of monsters mediate between the living and the dead. As Turner writes: “The Halloween children exemplify several liminal motifs: their masks insure them anonymity, for no one knows just whose particular children they are. But, as with most rituals of reversal, anonymity here is for purposes of aggression, not humiliation. The child’s mask is like the highwayman’s mask — and, indeed, children at Halloween often wear the masks of burglars or executioners. Masking endows them with the powers of feral, criminal autochthonous and supernatural beings.” (1966: 172). Halloween night is the night when monsters are free to wander around humans and humans pretend to be monsters. Halloween protects the monster (other/outsider) and gives freedom to be different. The ‘otherness’ and reversal of Halloween captures horror perfectly.
Rules and Tradition
It is Halloween’s night. A couple in costume goes home. The wife doesn’t like Halloween and tries to blow out the candle in a jack-o’-lantern. “There are rules,” remonstrates the husband pleading her not to blow the candle off. It is “an ancient tradition.” Indeed the title sequence represents Halloween as an ancient ritual. The wife ignores the warning, blows out the candle, and breaks ‘the rules’. She is duly murdered as a result. All artistic expressions have traditions, customs, and rules, but I feel the horror genre is pretty strict about its cultural references. Horror is like religion: it always appeals to tradition while reinterpreting and expanding the horror universe. Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie is filled with film references, its charm lies in adapting classical horror/gothic tropes, themes, and meanings to the relationship between a child and his dog in animated format.
In Trick ‘r Treat, we are reminded to respect the dead because Halloween is the “night when the dead roam free and pay us a visit”. Most importantly, “all these traditions started to protect us. Today nobody cares,” says Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker), the town principal, who is being all fatherly carving the lantern with his son, except it’s not a pumpkin, but a child’s head. The child was taking too many sweets and neglected a Halloween’s rule, as Wilkins remarks, “there’s another tradition: always check your candy!” In a nutshell: you mess with tradition at your peril!